Environmental Must-Reads – May 15, 2015


NY releases final fracking report

New York regulators have released the final version of an environmental impact review of natural gas development that’s expected to lead to the nation’s first ban on a drilling process called fracking by a state with significant shale gas deposits.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in December that he would defer to the judgment of his health and environmental conservation commissioners, who said they’d recommend a ban on high-volume fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting large volumes of water with sand and hazardous chemicals underground to break apart rock. Under state law, a formal decision on whether to allow or ban fracking will come 10 days after the environmental review’s release on Wednesday.

NY Fracking Report Underscores Quake, Climate Risks

New York is 2,000 pages closer to becoming the first fossil fuels-rich state in the U.S. to ban fracking indefinitely because of the climate-changing methane it could emit and the earthquakes, air pollution and water contamination it could cause.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in December that fracking, short for the natural gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing, would be banned in New York, where the energy-rich Marcellus shale holds up to 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The state followed up this week with a 2,000-page final environmental report outlining why it would be better off without the environmental, climate and public health implications of the process.

Fracking may cause air pollution, respiratory issues

The explosion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the oil and natural gas industry as a method of extracting fuels from shale basins has raised dozens of environmental concerns including increased risk of air pollution and respiratory issues among them.

A new study found that contaminants in the air from fracking exceed levels deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency and may pose health risks to those exposed.

Could Fracking Ruin Your Vacation?

As the start of summer draws ever closer, Americans and international tourists will begin to flock to U.S. national parks, forests and other public lands for summer vacations, recreation and appreciation of our natural heritage. But there is something threatening the future of these lands and the communities that surround our national parks. Fracking.

President Obama’s Bureau of Land Management finalized thin, new rules for regulating fracking on public lands back in March. When these rules were proposed in 2013, more than 650,000 public comments were delivered demanding an outright ban on the practice instead. By the end of 2014, oil and gas companies had leases on more than 34 million acres of U.S. public land. More than 200 million more acres—about a third of all federal land—can be targeted with drilling and fracking.

Fracking could increase risk of cancer, new study finds

Living near to active fracking sites could increase the risk of cancer as the process harmful chemicals into the air, a new study has found.

Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of Cincinnati found that hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are linked to cancers and respiratory diseases.

The study found that moving just one mile away from active sites reduced the levels of the dangerous chemicals in the air by up to 30%.

Open fracking water pits allowed without Garfield County permit

Open-air pits used to hold water for hydraulic fracturing will now be allowed at remote fracking sites in Garfield County as a use-by-right, under a decision ratified by county commissioners on Monday.

Earlier this year, WPX Energy asked the county to clarify its definition of allowed facilities at remote, centralized locations used for fracking operations, and whether open pits and enclosed tanks used for storage of fracking fluids should both be exempt from land-use reviews.

U.S. green groups sue in challenge to oil train safety rules

Seven environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging safety rules issued earlier this month for trains carrying oil, arguing the regulations are too weak to protect the public.

The groups, including the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity, charge that the rules, issued on May 1, will allow industry to continue to use “unsafe tank cars” for up to 10 years and fail to set adequate speed limits for oil trains.

Environmental Groups Sue Over Oil Train Rules, Cite Amtrak Crash

Environmental groups are suing the Obama administration over recently announced rules for transporting oil by rail, arguing they allow unsafe tankers to remain on the tracks for a decade.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court’s 9th Circuit Wednesday. It says new Department of Transportation rules fail to protect Americans from exploding trains.

Gov. Inslee signs oil train safety bill

The public will soon know more about the oil trains moving through Washington state. A bill signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee Thursday requires, not only the railroad, but the oil producers, to let state, county, and local emergency responders know when the trains are coming and how much oil they’re carrying.

“This measure helps us deal with major changes in how crude oil is moving across out state,” Inslee said as he signed the measure.

New rules for oil tank cars don’t offer enough fire protection, experts say

When a train hauling volatile crude oil derailed near Galena in March, witnesses said it took about only an hour for tank cars to explode, sending giant fireballs hundreds of feet into the sky.

Authorities said the tank cars survived the derailment intact, only to be engulfed in a flaming pool of oil that leaked from damaged cars and was ignited by a spark. The heat built up so much pressure within the cars that they blew up.

The Pipeline That Texans Are Freaking Out Over (Nope, Not Keystone)

Earlier this year a couple of billionaires landed a nearly $770 million contract to run a 143-mile long natural gas pipeline through Texas’s pristine Big Bend region. As of May 11, rail shipments of pipe had begun to arrive in Big Bend’s Fort Stockton area. This recent progress on the pipeline project is fueling pushback from locals who’ve been concerned about this project since it was announced in November 2014. Big Bend is one of Texas’ last unspoiled wilderness areas and one of few remaining holdouts in a state riddled with energy transmission pipelines and large-scale oil and gas activity. Fearing potential land grabs, increased traffic, and environmental desecration, locals have been mobilizing through town hall meetings and launching activist campaigns to oppose it.

Farmers Fight a New Kind of Pipeline Spill–Salty Wastewater

For most of the years since wildcatters began tapping the prairies here for oil, energy companies have existed peacefully with the farmers and ranchers who still dominate the state’s economy.

But now a dispute has broken out between the two groups over pipeline spills, not of oil but of salty wastewater. The latest such leak came last week, when some 220,000 gallons of brine leaked on an Indian reservation. In particular, agricultural interests are frustrated that oil drillers and pipeline companies haven’t agreed to use technology that farmers say could quickly detect brine leaks.

U.S. regulators reject request for more hearings on Atlantic Coast pipeline

Federal regulators have rejected a request by Virginia’s U.S. senators and a congressman for additional public hearings on the proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline.

In April, Sens. Timothy M. Kaine and Mark R. Warner, both Democrats, and Rep. Robert Hurt, R-5th, said they wanted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to allow more time and public hearings in order for opponents of the project to have their say, particularly in Nelson and Augusta counties.

30 Million Gallons Under the Sea: Five Years After BP Disaster, New Drilling OK’d by Spill Site

We turn now from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico, where drilling has resumed near the site of the BP-operated offshore oil rig that exploded five years ago in the worst industrial environmental disaster in U.S. history. On Wednesday, Harper’s Magazine revealed a Louisiana-based oil company purchased the area from BP and is now drilling into the Macondo reservoir. The report also looks at the ongoing impact of the 2010 spill. We speak to reporter Antonia Juhasz, who spent two weeks on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico as part of a scientific research mission exploring the impacts of the BP Gulf oil spill. She participated in a dive in the Alvin submarine nearly a mile below the ocean surface, getting closer to the site of the blowout than anyone had ever been.

Judge denies Coon motion to delay, decrease nearly $14 billion BP oil spill fines under Clean Water Act

A motion by a plaintiff’s attorney aimed at protecting BP’s financial solvency by delaying or decreasing an estimated $13.7 billion government fine against the oil giant has been denied.

Brent Coon of Beaumont, Texas-based Coon & Associates, who represents thousands of clients with claims awaiting processing and payment, filed the request with the court on Monday.

Further assessment needed of dispersants used in response to oil spills

New commentary in Nature Reviews Microbiology by Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia and her colleagues argues for further in-depth assessments of the impacts of dispersants on microorganisms to guide their use in response to future oil spills.

Chemical dispersants are widely used in emergency responses to oil spills in marine environments as a means of stimulating microbial degradation of oil. After the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, dispersants were applied to the sea surface and deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the latter of which was unprecedented. Dispersants were used as a first line of defense even though little is known about how they affect microbial communities or the biodegradation activities they are intended to spur.

63 percent of oil spill economic claims complete

Deepwater Horizon Claims Administrator Patrick A. Juneau released a snapshot of the percentages of claims completed as of May 1.

He reports that 63 percent of claims are complete. In the report to federal court, he pointed out that the completion percentage is influenced by a number of elements including claim reviews resulting in a final determination notice, new claims filings, claims returning to the program up request of claimant or claimant representation requesting a post-determination review or appeal per the settlement agreement.

Michigan’s $75 Million Settlement with Enbridge Draws Praise, Questions

Oil pipeline giant Enbridge, Inc. has agreed to a $75 million settlement with the state of Michigan over the rupture of its line 6B that sent more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo River nearly five years ago.

As part of a sweeping agreement to improve the Kalamazoo River and surrounding wetlands in southwestern Michigan, Enbridge has pledged to dedicate $30 million of the settlement to restore or create 300 acres of wetlands.

Duke Energy fined $102 million for polluting rivers with coal ash

Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electrical utility, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act for polluting four major rivers for several years with toxic coal ash from five power plants in North Carolina.

The $50.5-billion company was fined $102 million and placed on five years of probation for environmental crimes. All company compliance related to coal ash in five states will be overseen by a court-appointed monitor and reported to federal parole officers.

Prosecutors: Duke Energy could have avoided Dan River spill

As Duke Energy pleaded guilty Thursday in a North Carolina courtroom to nine criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act, federal prosecutors recounted examples where time and again the nation’s largest electricity company failed to prevent its illegal pollution.

Two years before the massive February 2014 spill at a Duke ash dump in Eden coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge, engineers at the plant twice requested $20,000 from company headquarters to use a robotic camera to inspect aging drainage pipes, including the one that later collapsed, triggering the disaster.

Critics slam latest Palmetto Pipeline filing

In an eleventh-hour effort to show its Palmetto Pipeline is needed in Georgia, energy giant Kinder Morgan last week filed an addendum to its needs application with the Georgia Department of Transportation.

But critics say the Houston-based company still hasn’t convinced them it merits the authority to condemn property along the petroleum pipeline’s proposed 210-mile route through the Peach State.

Man alleges company offered prostitute for pipeline right-of-way

A southeast Iowa landowner who claims a land agent offered him a prostitute in exchange for letting a pipeline cross his property allowed reporters to listen Wednesday to an audio recording he said he secretly made of the conversation.

Hughie Tweedy, 61, of rural Montrose, said he recorded a Nov. 20 conversation with a right of way agent working with Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which wants to build a 1,134-mile crude oil pipeline from the Oil Patch in North Dakota to Patoka, Ill., cutting through the Dakotas and Iowa.

Enbridge appeals Dane County zoning decision

An energy company is appealing a Dane County zoning decision requiring an additional $25 million in insurance before it can start a pipeline expansion project.

Enbridge Corporation filed an appeal on May 4 asking the Dane County Board of Supervisors to overturn the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee’s decision.

Protests in Seattle greet Shell oil rig destined for Arctic drilling

The first of two Royal Dutch Shell drilling rigs slated for Arctic oil exploration has arrived in Seattle as environmental activists gear up for days of protests over plans to store the equipment at the city’s port.

Shell is planning to use Seattle as a base to store and maintain the rigs and other equipment as it resumes exploration and drilling this summer in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, where it has not drilled since a mishap-filled 2012 season.

Giant Arctic oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer docks in Seattle

The Polar Pioneer oil rig docked Thursday at Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 , which is facing controversy over its agreement with Royal Dutch Shell to service Arctic drilling vessels.

It started the voyage from Port Angeles 1:30 a.m. Thursday and is moving at a speed of about 5 knots or 6 miles an hour. It is expected to arrive in Seattle this afternoon or early evening.

It will be part of the Seattle skyline for at least eight months of the year for the next two years.

Regulators Question Hunters Point Radiation Testing

State health regulators are questioning the radiation testing of huge areas of a former naval shipyard in the south eastern part of San Francisco, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has learned.

In an unprecedented move last fall, the California Department of Public Health suspended unrestricted release recommendations for nearly two dozen buildings on the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. The buildings are currently on government-owned land that will be eventually transferred to private ownership after radiation cleanup. The recommendations act as the state’s approvals that any radiation which may have existed on a site has been cleaned up, doesn’t pose a health threat and can be turned over for redevelopment.

LDP wants Fukushima evac orders lifted early in some areas by end of fiscal 2016

A task force in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party plans to ask the government to lift evacuation orders for areas with “relatively low” radiation around the meltdown-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant by the end of fiscal 2016.

The politicians want to speed up residents’ return to radiation-tainted areas and discussed measures, including lifting the evacuation orders, at a general meeting Thursday.

M5.1 quake strikes off Fukushima coast

An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.1 struck off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture on Friday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said, adding there was no danger of a tsunami.

The epicenter of the quake, which struck at 12:30 p.m., was 50 kilometers deep in the sea off the Fukushima coastline. There were no immediate reports of damage or injury.

Taiwan imposes new restrictions on Japan food imports

Taiwan Friday imposed new restrictions on food imported from Japan after hundreds of products were recalled over fake labels that disguised they came from areas affected by the country’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Taiwan banned Japanese food imports from five areas near Fukushima in March 2011 a few weeks after a devastating quake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown at a power plant and radioactive particles were detected in some imports.

Nuclear Evacuation Preps in Question for Chicago Area Communities

A radiological leak at one of Illinois’ six nuclear power plants could create a plume that puts people, water and food supplies at risk depending on factors such as wind speed and wind direction.

While there has yet to be a major radiological incident in Illinois, NBC 5 Investigates obtained documents that show some communities in the Chicago area may not be prepared to handle a nuclear-related evacuation as well as others.

Workers seal storage bunker at nuclear waste dump

Officials say workers have sealed off the first of two storage bunkers affected by a radiation leak at the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Energy says about 85 percent of the containers packed with waste similar to the one that caused the leak have been isolated with the closure of the area known as Panel 6.

What’s the most radioactive city?

A difficult decision faced Futaba, Japan this January. The vacant town, located within the Prohibited Zone created after the Fukushima nuclear leak in 2011 (which continues to spill toxic effluent into the Pacific Ocean), was asked to host a radioactive materials storage facility, for the bags of radioactive topsoil and debris that have been sitting in fields around the area for years. The exiled municipal authorities agreed – perhaps sealing the fate of the city even should it be cleared one day for repopulation.

Add comment

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This